4 Steps to Supporting Good Digestion
What we’ll cover
- 1. The Prevalence of Digestive Issues
- Ignoring the Signs
- What if it’s Nothing Serious?
- 2. Good Digestion: It All Starts With Chewing Your Food
- 3. Digestive Health Tests Can Uncover Imbalances
- 4 Steps to Supporting Good Digestion
- Eat a Digestion-Focused Diet
- Drink Plenty of Water
- Reduce Stress at Mealtimes
- Make Sure to Move
- 5. Helping Out Your Good Digestion with Supplements
- Digestive Enzymes
Most of the time, we take our digestive system for granted. But when it goes out of whack, it’s a different story, and digestive issues can quickly become all-encompassing. Stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhoea, frequent bowel movements, constipation, even night sweats, and unexplained weight loss or gain are signs of poor digestive health that people regularly live with. Unfortunately, we may start to believe these conditions are “normal for us.”
1. The Prevalence of Digestive Issues
A 2013 study revealed that 74% of all participants had experienced digestive discomfort for six months or more, yet only 37% sought help from their doctor. Additionally, 56% of those who experienced discomfort didn’t seek medical help because they didn’t believe their symptoms required medical attention.
Ignoring the Signs
Ignoring digestive issues is a dangerous approach to take. Sometimes digestive distress is symptomatic of a deeper medical problem that requires medical attention. You must talk to your doctor if you experience ongoing or severe digestive symptoms to understand what is happening and ensure it’s nothing serious.
What if it’s Nothing Serious?
The good news is that if a diagnosed digestive disease is not the reason for your symptoms, it’s often possible to get your digestion back on track by making a few targeted diet and lifestyle tweaks.
2. Good Digestion: It All Starts With Chewing Your Food
When your digestive system is acting up, the first step should always be returning to the basics. Chewing your food correctly is easy and helps your body break down food and absorb nutrients better.
That is because chewing starts the digestive process. Mechanically, it breaks food into smaller pieces to increase its surface area so your digestive enzymes can work more effectively. Chewing also makes saliva, which has the first enzyme in a chain of enzymes that work together to break down and absorb nutrients from food.
We eat too quickly, distracted, or on the go, so we don’t chew our food well enough. It is more important than many realize to set aside ample time to enjoy your meals. If this is new for you, try scheduling meal times like any other priority to help solidify the habit initially.
3. Digestive Health Tests Can Uncover Imbalances
Improving digestion is where Functional Medicine excels. We can run laboratory tests to see what is going on, even if your regular checkup did not give you a diagnosis of digestive disease. We have a full toolbox of ways to test your digestion and look for problems that may be causing your symptoms, such as:
- Stool testing to check your unique microbiome of bacteria and yeasts
- Testing for markers of inflammation
- Checking pancreatic enzyme levels
- Checking for food intolerances and immune markers, as well as celiac antibodies
- Testing for nutritional deficiencies, diabetes indicators, liver function, stress hormones and more.
4 Steps to Supporting Good Digestion
Eat a Digestion-Focused Diet
What you eat matters. Nutrient-dense, fibre-rich foods filled with enzymes help your meals move through your digestive system. We are spoiled for choice and have a variety of vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruit available to us year-round.
High-fibre foods absorb water and other fluids to form a gel-like substance that feeds the good bacteria in your digestive system and soothes the gut wall. This helps provide bulk, which eases waste passing through your system.
Reducing sugar and caffeine also aids digestion by reducing irritation often caused by gas and unfriendly bacteria. These bacteria cause gas, and cramping, feed off sugar and multiply. Stevia is an excellent alternative to sugar. Also, consider Rooibos tea to give you a bit of energy midday rather than that extra cup of coffee, as caffeine can irritate the digestive tract.
Eating probiotic-rich, fermented foods like unsweetened probiotic yogurt, kimchi, kefir, miso, and sauerkraut also helps. Probiotics battle harmful bacteria in your digestive system and lower the ph levels in the colon, which supports your gut lining and aids in absorbing nutrients.
Lastly, fats encourage gallbladder function and thus support the absorption of minerals from your food. Healthy options, including avocados, nuts, seeds and their oils, and fatty fish, are all great ways to support your digestive cascade while nourishing your body.
Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration and constipation go hand in hand. Water is needed to produce digestive enzymes, it helps move nutrients from your food into your cells, it supports your fibre intake by keeping soluble fibre hydrated and puffy so it can do its job of “sweeping” the digestive tract, and it is a crucial part of muscle movement – remember that your gut is a long tube made up of muscles that need to contract in a co-ordinated wave-like motion.
Reduce Stress at Mealtimes
In “fight or flight” mode, the body redirects water from your digestive system to serve the immediate survival need. High stress over time causes constipation and a host of digestive symptoms. Keeping stress low is particularly important during mealtimes as the body needs to be in a state of calm for digestion to occur at all.
Slow down and try to sit at a table to eat your meal. Turn off screens, take slow, deep breaths and pay attention to the pleasure of good food and company if you’re lucky. This will help put your body into “rest and digest” mode and enable the body to do what it needs to do next in the digestive cascade.
Make Sure to Move
Digestive health pioneer Dr Bernard Jensen famously said, “After your meal, sit a while, then walk a mile.” Research has shown us that exercise can improve the rate at which you digest food. Gravity and movement stimulate peristalsis by helping to trigger various “fullness” receptors in your colon, which trigger healthy peristalsis to push your digested food through the digestive tract regularly. Exercise is also a great stress reducer, which may explain how hearty your appetite for a healthy meal can be post-workout.
5. Helping Out Your Good Digestion with Supplements
For many of us these days, eating, chewing, and relaxing is not enough to bring balance back. If meals still have you feeling overly full, your enzymes may need some support. Your healthcare practitioner can help you to find the right enzyme supplement for your symptoms. Papaya and pineapple also have enzymes that help the body digest food, which may be enough help.
The good bacteria in your digestive tract support gut health by breaking down specific carbohydrates, soothing the gut wall, and producing hormones such as serotonin, the “feel-good hormone.” Maintaining that microbiome is essential for avoiding digestive problems like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and problems with mental health.
A good quality probiotic supplement can help replenish and balance your gut bacteria. Research suggests they can help support a healthy gut and good digestion even with existing digestive problems. However, get a recommendation from your healthcare practitioner, as not all probiotic supplements are created equal.
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